Terra Nova experienced two straight nonleague losses to start the football season that in the estimation of its coaches exposed some weaknesses.
The Tigers spent a good portion of last week’s practices addressing some of the areas they needed to improve on, and a 17-7 Week 3 nonleague road victory over Pioneer of San Jose on Friday suggests the extra work the paid off.
"You look for progress and we found that in all three phases of the game," Terra Nova coach Bill Gray said.
Gray cited lapses in the defensive backfield and special teams as areas that were of particular concern after his team’s 0-2 start.
The team's overall inconsistency on both sides of the ball - something he acknowledged wasn't completely unexpected on a team that experienced heavy graduation losses - was a concern too.
And that made the progress Terra Nova showed in the Pioneer game especially impressive, he said.
"Our defense was outstanding against the run, it was very good against the pass when it had to be, our special teams were very good from start to finish offense had its most consistent performance and it needs to be more so."
Interior linemen Sam Auelua, Richard Auelua and Paul Noa were among the Tigers' leading defensive contributors, Gray said.
Wide receiver Jaylen Jones, slot receiver Nick Pierotti, and running back Tanner Piccolotti excelled behind a strong performance from Terra Nova's offensive line, Gray said.
Piccolotti rushed for 150 yards on 20 carries to lead the Tigers offensively. K’ren Spain was 12-for-25 passing for 130 yards with one interception and rushed for 56 yards on 10 carries.
Clark Tolero and Aaron Worthens each had one interception.
"It’s whole different thing:"
Terra Nova has experienced failure and lived to tell about it, and now, after playing their best and most complete game of the year, an inexperienced Tigers team now faces an altogether different burden: Experiencing success.
"This team appears to be handling the challenges and responding to defeats in the appropriate way. Now we have to see how we're going to respond to a win,” Gray said. "It's a whole different thing."
And for a team that's just getting used to speed and physicality of the varsity game, it’s an adjustment that’s not as easy as it sounds.
"We're dealing with young people," Gray said. "Losses can bury them to the point where you don't get them back. Now you win a game and you tend to think you have things figured out, you get a little fat-headed, a little complacent and maybe a little bit overconfident.”
“The exact opposite:”
Terra Nova faced unique challenges in Friday's game, notably going up against an athletic Pioneer team running misdirection plays in a Delaware wing-T offense its players aren't used to seeing. A surprising switch in defensive formations early in the Pioneer game required Terra Nova's players and coaches to think quick on their feet too.
The Tigers will face a much different kind of opponent this week against a Salinas team that is neither tricky nor imaginative.
The Cowboys (1-1) employ a combination of size, strength and speed to go along with the depth of a small army (they have 86 players listed on their roster and regularly suit up over 70, Gray said).
With 52 players, Terra Nova won’t be out-manned, but Gray acknowledged that Salinas' combination of athleticism, physicality and manpower presents challenges that although much different from Terra Nova's most recent opponent, are formidable.
Terra Nova plays host to Salinas Friday at 7 p.m.
"They're the exact opposite" of Pioneer, Gray said. " Salinas has great size and great speed, and when you watch their offense and defense, it's extremely simple, which is an indicator that they have a great faith in the ability of their players.
"It's another adventure for us."
Gray said he believes different kinds of teams from outside the immediate area help prepare his players for the diverse challenges they'll face in the Peninsula Athletic League Bay. The Tigers, who open league on Oct. 12 against Sacred Heart Prep, are seeking their fourth consecutive league title.
"If you're playing your preseason games in San Mateo County you just tend not to get any better. You've got to get out there and see what's out there and play and compete," Gray said.
Gray admitted taking some pleasure in Stanford's stunning 21-14 upset victory over USC on Saturday because he "hates USC and likes watching Bay Area teams do well."
But he believes the game offers valuable lessons about sports that his players, and athletes at any level can take from it.
"It was interesting to watch how they won," he said. "It's an indicator that if you're a very good team and you're playing a team that you're not prepared for or not ready to play that you could lose a game that you're not supposed to lose."
New-look poloists off to winning start:
A Terra Nova water polo team that’s seeking to defend it’s PAL Ocean title with just one varsity returnee is off to an impressive start.
The Tigers (1-2, 1-0 PAL Bay) opened league with a dramatic 11-10 victory over San Mateo on Thursday in which newcomer Jacob Roberts scored the game-winning goal with just under two minutes left.
The victory followed nonleague losses to two teams in the more advanced PAL Bay (17-11 to Carlmont on Sept. 6, and 14-12 to Woodside on Thursday).
“We did very well (against the PAL Bay teams),” Tigers coach Bruce Crossfield said. “They were all close games and they learned a lot from their losses.
“I was very impressed.”
Crossfield was especially impressed with his team’s composure down the stretch of the San Mateo game. The Tigers played the last three minutes of the game without their leading scorer Joel Crossfield (the coach’s son).
Crossfield led the Tigers with five goals, and goalie Kyle Kehoe had 16 saves.